The paradoxical policies of the Social Support Act in the Netherlands
The paper reports on the effects of the Social Support Act (Wmo) in the Netherlands. The Wmo connects to a political discourse of active citizenship. It resembles the current European political interpretation of citizenship: stressing self-responsibility for the personal life, fighting against a presumed over invasive welfare state and implying a shared responsibility of government and civil society in the care and welfare for vulnerable groups. Data was collected on the basis of two surveys evaluating the effects of the Wmo for voluntary organizations and professional non-profit institutions in the realm of social care and welfare (2007-2008 and 2009-2010; N = 772). In addition, in-depth interviews with stakeholders and case studies were carried out. The study yields several paradoxical policy outcomes. Contrary to the objectives of the Social Support Act, the results show that a ‘revitalization’ of the civil society – in terms of a stronger contribution to social goals and policies – remains a far stretch whilst professional entities thrive under the new governmental élan. Other paradoxical outcomes stem from policies designed to increase the participation of people with severe mental disabilities. Instigating the socialization of these groups through mandatory measures can in practice increase their isolation. Recommendations to reduce unintended effects of the Social Support Act are discussed.
Keywords: Social Support Act, civil society, participation, active citizenship, vulnerable groups
Marga Lammers is showing us around a Regional Sheltered Housing Institution (Regionale Instelling Beschermd Wonen or RIBW), at a location in the west of the Netherlands. Marga is the Site Manager at the institution, which provides care to clients who have a mental impairment or multiple disabilities. The site is wedged between a centre of urban growth and a suburban residential neighbourhood. Around 400 clients live and take part in leisure activities here. They include young people, adults and elderly people with mild to severe mental disabilities, behavioural disorders or psychiatric problems. Marga describes the RIBW institution as a ‘private site with an open character’. Residents of the neighbouring suburb have free access to the area. Visitors to the site gain the impression that they have entered a village for the mentally impaired: the asphalt roads are lined with group apartments with coloured drawings displayed at the windows, minibus taxis carrying disabled people drive up and down and everywhere there are clients tearing around in go-carts.
We interview Marga Lammers about the ideal of the ‘socialization’ of people who have a severe mental disability or psychiatric disorder. As a result of the recently introduced Social Support Act, vulnerable groups are increasingly required to ‘integrate with the community’ in order to participate ‘amongst the people’ (Verplanke & Duyvendak, 2010). For the RIBW institution where Marga works, this implies severe changes in the near future. A large number of the clients will soon be housed outside of the care site, in apartments amongst ordinary residents. The housing blocks are already under construction. Although it looks good on paper, Marga is concerned about the imminent move: ‘Soon it will be much harder for us to monitor how people are coping. For instance, we have to insulate bedrooms and shut clients in at night due to excessive noise levels. We have a girl who suddenly starts screaming at five o’clock in the morning. What’s more, they can’t cross the street on their own. Most clients don’t know what traffic is, let alone being able to watch out for it. In the new situation, they must always be accompanied by an attendant at set times if they want to go for a walk. Whereas at the moment, they are able to move around the care site relatively safely.’ With the help of concerned family members it was only just possible to avoid the relocation of the most vulnerable group of clients – those with an extremely low mental capacity – to individual apartments in the district. The site manager has few illusions as to the involvement of local residents when the clients are soon moved to the neighbouring residential area: ‘We are doing everything we can to inform residents about the arrival of mentally disabled people in their environment: distributing leaflets, organising information evenings and events. But only one or two people have shown an interest.’